This week I was interested to read a new study in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology which showed that ear acupuncture can significantly reduce low back and pelvic pain during pregnancy. You can read the full text of the study here. This is not the first research study to look at this. In fact, in 2005 I was interviewed by ABC News about a previous study in the British Medical Journal that also showed acupuncture can help with pregnancy back pain. You can watch that clip here.
Up to 1 in 5 women* suffer from back and pelvic girdle pain in pregnancy. Usually, our patients complain of pain in the low back and buttocks although some patients also feel discomfort at the front of their pelvic area. Some also experience radiating pain down one or both of their legs. Most patients tell us that the pain gets worse if they have to stand for a long time. In 7% of women*, the pain continues after they have given birth becoming a chronic lower back issue.
At the Yinova Center in NYC, many of our pregnant patients are keen to avoid medication, if possible, and so they choose acupuncture as a gentle and safe way to treat their pain. We usually use a combination of ear acupuncture as described in this recent study and local acupuncture as outlined in the previous study. The local acupuncture works in three ways – the needles act on the nervous system to interrupt the pain signal, the combination of needles causes the body to release chemicals which act as natural pain killers, and by needling the spasms we get the knots in the muscles to release.
In the recent study, the patients only received ear acupuncture which has a long history of efficacy in China and has been found in clinical research to initiate an endorphin release. 152 women*, in late pregnancy, were divided into three groups one of which had small acupuncture needles held in place by tape and retained in three ear acupoints for one week. Another group received sham acupuncture and the final group acted as a control and received no acupuncture at all although they were instructed to rest and take painkillers if necessary. 81% of women* in the ear acupuncture group reported a significant reduction in pain as opposed to 59% of the women* in the sham acupuncture group and 47% of the women* in the control group.
Acupuncture is a time-tested therapy for pain relief and because it has few side effects is one of the safest ways of relieving pain in pregnant people. Most of our patients get relief from the combination of ear and body acupuncture and usually feel much better after 2 or 3 treatments. Other helpful treatments include gentle stretching exercises as well as massage by a qualified prenatal massage therapist and we usually suggest that patients do one of these in conjunction with their acupuncture treatment.
*Language used int eh study referenced.